Grammar

When Does a Riot Become a ‘Deadly Riot?’

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During coverage of the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, some viewers didn’t like it referred to as a ‘deadly riot.’

If I ask when a riot becomes a deadly riot, it may sound like I’m setting up a joke. Trust me: I’m not.

On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob of people broke into the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the process to certify the 2020 election. In doing so, they hoped to prevent Joe Biden from officially being elected as president.

They failed, of course. Joe Biden is, like it or not, the president.

But how you characterize the people involved in storming the Capitol largely depends on your political affiliation.

Some have called it a riot, while others label it an insurrection. You might have heard of it being called a capitol siege. Some even claim it was an act of patriotism designed to defend the nation from a “stolen” election. (I suspect you can guess which political affiliation takes that view.)

As coverage continued and the event evolved, the terminology began to change.

But I saw complaints during the coverage about news reports that referred to it as a deadly riot.

What’s the criteria for labeling a riot a deadly riot?

I find the question itself absurd. The answer is so obvious that no one should need ask it.

But for those who do, I’ll answer it the same way I’d answer this question: When does a shooting become a deadly shooting?

The answer is this: When someone dies.

You may have difficult believing that anything could be so simple, so rational, so logical these days. But the proper use of the qualifier deadly falls exactly into that category.

If no one dies, it’s not deadly. If someone dies, it is.

It doesn’t require multiple deaths. There’s no numerical value at which something becomes deadly. It either is or it isn’t.

You can’t find an in-between. It’s all in black and white — no room for gray here, folks.

One person complained about one station’s report that used deadly riot in its graphics. In the complaint, he suggested that only one person died — an unarmed woman who was shot by Capitol Police. A second person, a police officer, died after the fact.

If you rule out the police officer, you still have a rioter (or protester or patriot or trespasser or whatever you want to call her) who died. That one death makes the event deadly. I’m not going out on some high intellectual limb here. That’s basic common sense. Granted, some may not want to always face common sense. But that’s their problem.

For my real job, I cover a lot of shootings. One of the worst happened in 2015 when a white man who told investigators he wanted to start a race war opened fire on nine parishioners of a Black church in downtown Charleston.

Some shootings, fortunately, do not involve that many casualties. Some shootings, of course, don’t involve fatalities.

But a shooting in which only a single person gets shot is still a shooting. A shooting in which only one person gets shot and dies from his or her wounds is a deadly shooting.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.